|Sunday, March 5, 1:00 PM EST
|17-13, 9-8 Big Ten
Penn State suffered yet another loss in the final seconds of the game, this time against Ohio State. Tony Carr’s late-game heroics put the Lions up a point with seconds left, but, as has been the norm in so many games this season, seconds was all the other team needed to get the heartbreaker in the basket. They now face an Iowa team coming off back-to-back wins against the top teams in the Big Ten (at the time), and is scorching the nets from three in the process.
With their most recent win, Iowa has positioned itself in the NCAA Tournament conversation, and this game will be an opportunity for them to be on the right side of the bubble. For Penn State, this is a last ditch effort to maintain a realistic possibility of an NIT berth were they to have a Big Ten Tournament performance like the one in 2015. At 7-11, the Nittany Lions would still be in the wrong side of the NIT bubble, but the overall 15-16 record is easier to overcome with two to three wins in the Big Ten Tournament, whereas a 14-17 record forces them to make the final in order to have a realistic chance. And, if Penn State makes the Big Ten Tournament final, they might as well win the whole damn thing.
Scouting the Opposition
Any mention of Iowa will immediately invoke the name Peter Jok. The senior has been doing most of the heavy lifting for the Hawkeyes this season, being the only returning starter from an NCAA tournament team a year ago. His 92% free throw rate is fifth in the nation, and he brings an adequate 50% eFG to the table as well. Jok will be a major priority for the Lions in this game.
Jok, however, is not the most threatening suspect on this Hawkeyes team. That honor goes to Nicholas Baer, whose 117.7 offensive rating is tops on the team. In the past five games, Baer has shot 58.3% from three. It gets worse. He’s not the most efficient player on the team, by a mile. Brady Ellingson has a 64.1 eFG% and is shooting 50.0% from three, on 61 shots. Needless to say, the Hawkeyes will shoot it from three and will bury you fairly quickly if the shots are falling.
What to Watch For
This being the last game of the regular season, it will be imperative that Penn State isn’t looking ahead to the Big Ten tournament and put up one last fight here. After all the heartbreaking losses, it would be easy to just pack it in and get ready for next season, but, as impossible as it may seem now, the Nittany Lions are still playing for something. As per the game itself, watch the Illinois tape. The Lions need to bring the same sort of pressure Illinois did two weeks ago, and force the Hawkeyes to take bad shots from outside.
Iowa’s offensive explosion of late is a revelation, but their defense is still mediocre. The Hawkeyes are 10th in the conference in adjusted defensive efficiency, which should bode well for the Lions, who are fifth in the Big Ten in the same category.
Unless they’re falling, the Lions cannot fall in the same trap they did against Ohio State and start chucking threes out of convenience. While some of those could not be helped, and understanding that Mike Watkins and Julian Moore were both playing at less than 100%, and considering that Payton Banks didn’t play at all, it’s still imperative that they develop an inside game, even if it means posting up Lamar Stevens and Deividas Zemgulis inside and forcing fouls. If the Hawkeyes dare Penn State to make every three imaginable, the outcome will be the same as before*.
Iowa has all the momentum right now, and Penn State may be ready to pack it in for the season. I don’t see this going well for the Lions, but they have proven, time after time, that every time we think they’re ready to quit, they’re actually just getting started. I still don't think they win this.
Iowa 88, Penn State 55.
*Unless they’re falling, in which case bombs away!